So many farms are named on twentieth century maps of Spencers Wood that you would guess that they had to be small individual holdings. Indeed the land is not particularly suitable for extensive farming. The steep slopes down towards Grazeley and the poor soils generally are often wet and were difficult to cultivate. The Enclosure Acts formed the small regular fields as late as 1864. By then there was improvement in farming methods and machinery, and an urgent demand from the growing population of local towns for fresh food.
Farmers could supply and transport milk, fruit and vegetables as well as fresh meat to Reading and even to London by train on a daily basis. For a time farming was reliably profitable, and a farm owner could make a decent income. Some village farms belonged to an owner who lived elsewhere with larger land holdings, and the farm here was run by his tenant. The owners of other farms lived on the land and either farmed themselves or had labourers working under the direction of the bailiff or farm manager. The ‘gentleman farmer’ was an important person in local society.
This variety led to a mosaic of arable and livestock farming. There were dairy farms, orchards, soft fruit farms, pig and poultry holdings, and growers of flowers and general ‘market garden’ producers. Goats were kept by the Red Lion opposite the post office. Local businesses developed to support these farms: the farrier, saddler, the local abattoir, the carter, vehicle maintenance and tool suppliers and repairers.
Individual farms could change hands quite frequently. Sometimes the farm name did not change, but often it took on the new owner’s name. Mullins Farm on Basingstoke Road is named on the first and second (1871 and 1900) editions of the Ordnance Survey maps, but by the 1911 edition it is called Body’s Farm. It retains that name to the present day. Farming was a widespread activity in Spencers Wood until the second half of the last century. Then pressures for housing and rising land prices resulted in the changes we see today. Eventually small scale farming could not last and houses, infrastructure and solar panels stand where fields and hedgerows once marked the farmland.
The History Group has information from some residents, and from varied sources such as Mary Russell Mitford writing in the 1820’s, and the Government Agricultural Census taken during World War II. We would be interested to hear from anyone who can tell us more about farms and farming in Spencers Wood.